Friday, November 30, 2007

Forget neutral - how do I jump off this train heading over the cliff?

At least I'm not in Texas, where the State Board of Education's runaway train, driven by their religio-political-appointee Chair, is taking all the children aboard with them as they head full-steam off the cliff and into the dark-ages! So worried are they about protecting the delicate sensibilities of children from the assaults of the E-word from a philosopher of science (SHOCK! HORROR!) that they had to force Chris Comer, the Texas director of science curriculum to resign for the crime of forwarding an email announcing a talk by said philosopher: you know, Barbara Forrest, that scary old wicked-witch who testified in the Dover trial! And was seen most recently on PBS's re-enactment of the trial, explaining the transitional fossil she discovered connecting creationism with intelligent design. We can't have young minds corrupted by such truths can we? But if you want to read that horrible email (only when the children are asleep!), it is available on the immoral internets, of course.

Texas Citizens for Science has the whole sordid story. What struck me was the Board of Education's use of the word "neutral":

TEA Policy of Neutrality Toward Creationism and Evolution

TEA has a new policy, one of neutrality between biological evolution and Intelligent Design Creationism. This new policy was put in place in September when Dr. Don McLeroy--an outspoken Creationist and activist for Intelligent Design Creationism and its marketing campaign who was appointed the new Chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE) in July--decided to start giving the TEA staff some tough love. By forwarding an email message that publicized a lecture in Austin by Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Louisiana University professor of philosophy and Dover trial witness, that supported evolution (as required by the Texas science standards) and opposed the teaching of Intelligent Design Creationism, Chris Comer ran afoul of the new policy and was asked to resign or be fired immediately. As we will see, this excuse to terminate Ms. Comer was trumped-up and illegitimate. The memo to her from the TEA contained several other criticisms, all of which were petty or insultingly insignificant. Amazingly, this memo is now available for the public to read thanks to the American-Statesman (see below), and it reveals the lengths to which the top administrators of our state's public education agency will go to silence dissent from their new policy of not criticizing Creationism.

when their agenda all along was something else.
The real reason Director of Science Chris Comer was forced to resign is because the top TEA administrators and some SBOE members wanted her out of the picture before the state science standards--the science TEKS--were reviewed, revised, and rewritten next year beginning in January 2008, and she would have some influence to make sure the standards were scientifically accurate and of high quality. Plans are underway by some SBOE members and TEA administrators to diminish the requirement to teach about evolutionary biology in the Biology TEKS and to require instead that biology instructors "Teach the Controversy" about the "weaknesses" of evolution, that is, teach the Creationist-inspired and -created bogus controversy about evolution that doesn't exist within legitimate science. They may even want specific bogus weaknesses required. There are, of course, no legitimate scientific weaknesses with biological evolution as the natural process is understood by scientists. At the level at which it is taught in high school, evolutionary biology has no weaknesses, gaps, or problems. At higher levels, there are poorly-understood concepts, but these are not weaknesses: these are areas that need more research. Therefore, it is duplicitous to pretend such "weaknesses" and "controversy" exist. The so-called controversy is a manufactured controversy, one created primarily by the Discovery Institute to trump up the notion that there are disagreements among scientists about evolution and these should be taught to high school students. This "teach the controversy" and "weaknesses of evolution" ploy is an attempt to disparage, diminish, and distort evolution so students will not have confidence in one of the most highly-corroborated explanations in science.
Still think you can remain neutral on this moving train?



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